CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (CNS) — A Harvard University student group’s plan to conduct a “black mass” May 12 at a pub on campus brought an outcry both on the campus and off, including a demand that the university prohibit the event.
Father Michael E. Drea, the senior Catholic chaplain at Harvard, condemned the event and invited the Catholic community of the university to a Eucharistic holy hour and benediction at St. Paul’s Church near the campus at the same time as the enactment.
The Pilot, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, quoted Father Drea as saying the event mocks the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — the center of our faith and worship.”
“As the university attempts to veil this ‘presentation’ under the guise of ‘academic freedom and expression,’ people of good will recognize it for what it truly is: an act of hatred and ridicule toward the Catholic Church and her faithful,” Father Drea said.
Drew Faust, Harvard president, said in a May 12 statement that she would attend the holy hour “to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.”
Faust called the club’s decision to sponsor such an enactment “abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community.” But she said she would not cancel or ban the black mass.
“The decision to proceed is and will remain theirs,” she said of the student group, called the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club.
“It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory,” Faust added.
The Archdiocese of Boston announced its opposition to the event May 7, saying in a statement that it “separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil.”
The archdiocese also called faithful and people of good will to pray and ask that Harvard disassociate itself from the event.
Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River and a Harvard graduate, said in an open letter to Faust that she should cancel the event as it is “a ceremony invoking Satan, mocking the Catholic Mass and desecrating what Catholics believe to be the body of Jesus Christ — or if, implausibly, an unconsecrated host will be used, something that is at least meant to symbolize the Eucharist.”
Father Landry said the statement in an earlier university press release that Harvard does not “endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization” did not go far enough. “Harvard simply would never allow itself or its properties to be associated with events that mock the religious beliefs, desecrate the sacred texts, or insult the spiritual sensitivities of Jews or Muslims,” he added.
Catholic Action League executive director C.J. Doyle said in a May 10 statement that the black mass was “an appalling sacrilege, a deliberate provocation and a barefaced exercise in unconcealed hate speech.”
Doyle added, “This vile, impending profanation is one more wretched example of the inordinate hypocrisy which afflicts American academic life in the matter of whose sensibilities may and may not be offended. The double standard is as shameless as it is deplorable.”
In a letter published May 12 in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, the Rev. Luther Zeigler, president of the Harvard chaplains, said, “We do not think the issue presented here is primarily one of academic freedom. Just because something may be permissible does not make it right or good. Whether or not these students are entitled to express themselves through the ceremony of a black mass as a matter of law or university policy is a distinct question from whether this is a healthy form of intellectual discourse or community life. We submit it is not.”
Rev. Zeigler, an Episcopal priest, added, “We urge the student organizers of the black mass to reconsider going forward with this event. If the event does go forward as planned, we would urge the rest of the community not to dignify it with your presence.”
The Harvard student group promoting the black mass — said to be an “inverted” re-enactment of the Catholic Mass — was working with the New York-based Satanic Temple, a group known for promoting controversy such as pushing to have a Satan statue built outside the Oklahoma Capitol. While there were fears that a consecrated host had been obtained for use at the event, the Satanic Temple said it had not obtained one and did not intend to offend any particular religion.
Contributing to this story was Christopher S. Pineo in Braintree.